CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Gearing up for the new English Mass translation

HONG KONG (SE): The diocese of Hong Kong will officially begin using the new translation of the English Mass on the first Sunday of Advent, December 2, about one year later than most parts of the English-speaking world.

While many expatriates living in the territory have experienced the Mass in the revised translation in other countries and some local parishes, like Rosary in Tsim Sha Tsui, have already been using it for a year and others have been introducing it bit by bit, the effect of the full-on experience still remains pretty much a mystery.

While many phrases in the new translation may be awkward and a bit difficult to get the tongue around, most people seem to have at least conquered the art of recitation, but the stated purpose of the translation, to bring a new appreciation to the mystery, will be a long time in the testing.

Congregations in Australia and the United States of America (US) have not yet provided much feedback on the experience beyond, “You’ll get used to it.”

While the new translation is generally viewed as an attempt to move away from the vernacular language used since Vatican II to a more formal and liturgical-specific style, getting used to it involves more than learning to recite the words.

“It is slightly more elevated than the current translation,” Father Andrew Wadsworth, from the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, told the Sunday Examiner in January 2010.

He added, “It seems more formal without being archaic. It is not old fashioned in its vocabulary, but is noticeably a form of sacred language, perhaps more recognisable as liturgical language in that it reflects the nature of the Latin from which it is translated.”

Nevertheless, the biggest challenge the new translation offers is in its presentation.

“I don’t think any of the language proposed is, ultimately, an obstacle. I think what will initially be an obstacle is its unfamiliarity. People resist change, but much depends on how it is presented,” Father Wadsworth reflected.

The first stumbling block comes in the some of the words which are not readily understood, which have most commonly been explained by reverting to the old translation to attach meaning to them, which basically defeats the whole purpose of the exercise.

However, the revamp exercise goes beyond the actual words used in the prayers to the atmosphere created in the church during the celebration with the availability of different types of music.

At an introductory afternoon held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on September 23, Franciscan Brother Rufino Zaragoza, from Oakland in the US, said that a whole new menu of musical experience is coming online.

He explained that the well-worn four hymns and four proper parts (Lord have mercy, Gloria, Holy holy holy… and Lamb of God) syndrome can now have freshly expanded boundaries with the creation of new chants that are repetitive, Taizé-style, easily committed to heart and capable of running for extended periods without a choir leading or the need for a book or overhead screen.

In a lively afternoon, he put on a tasting session of what may become a new well-worn musical path in Eucharistic celebrations in the future with the help of a couple of small parish choirs.

He added that while the tunes may be catchy, they are also reflective and are not designed to replace the old menu, but are something to supplement it and give a few new options to the liturgy.

“They also have the attraction of not being that hard to learn and not requiring a high degree of sophisticated musical training to present,” he said.

Brother Zaragoza also gave choir leaders a few glib explanations of why the new translation is being introduced, which could serve as throw away lines to brush off complaints they may receive that should be directed elsewhere, rather than helping to come to grips with the purpose of the exercise.

While some Church officials have been saying that much of the resistance to the new translation can be explained as being people’s general resistance to change, others note that it is primarily a resistance to an unwelcome change that to date has not excited the overall Catholic imagination.

Whether it will lead to a greater appreciation of the Mass or not, only time will tell.

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